Category: Meet Your Escheator

Meet Your New (and Returning) Escheators

You may not have noticed, given that there was almost no news coverage of it, but this past Tuesday was Election Day in the United States.  While the consequences of that election on national policies are being hotly debated, there were several elections that may impact the future course of unclaimed property policies.  Most state unclaimed property offices are run by an elected State Treasurer (or State Comptroller).  There were several such elections this week.  Among the new (in bold) or returning unclaimed property elected officials are:

Alabama — John McMillan
Arkansas — Andrea Lea (Auditor of State)
California — Betty Yee (State Comptroller)
Colorado — Dave Young
Connecticut — Shawn Wooden
Florida — Jimmy Patronis
Idaho — Judy Ellsworth
Illinois — Michael Frerichs
Iowa — Michael Fitzgerald
Kansas — Jake LaTurner
Massachusetts — Deb Goldberg
Nebraska — John Murante
Nevada — Zach Conine
New York — Thomas DiNapoli (State Comptroller)
Oklahoma — Randy McDaniel
Rhode Island — Seth Magaziner
South Carolina — Curtis Loftis
South Dakota — Josh Haeder
Texas — Glenn Hegar
Vermont — Elizabeth Pearce
Wyoming — Curt Meier

Congratulations to these new officials.

Meet Your New Escheators! (Actually, say "Hello Again")

In case you missed it (owing, no doubt to the total lack of media coverage) yesterday was Election Day.  While most news focused upon the notable federal elections, there were also seven races to elect executive officials responsible for administering state unclaimed property programs.  In every case, the incumbent will continue on the job: 

Indiana — Greg Zoeller was reelected as the Attorney General of the State of Indiana.  In Indiana, the AG’s office is responsible for that state’s unclaimed property program.

MissouriClint Zweifel was reelected as Missouri State Treasurer.  Treasurer Zweifel is no stranger to these pages, as he was the subject of our first “Meet Your Escheator” interview.

North Carolina — Janet Cowell was reelected State Treasurer.

Pennsylvania — Rob McCord was reelected State Treasurer.

Utah — Richard Ellis was reelected State Treasurer.

Vermont — Beth Pearce was elected to her first full term as State Treasurer (though she was already serving as a result of an executive appointment).

West Virginia — John Purdue was reelected State Treasurer.

Best of luck to all of them.

Meet Your Escheator: South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.

Welcome to the second installment of Escheatable’s “Meet Your Escheator” feature, where we provide interviews and commentary by state unclaimed property officials.  This time, we are thrilled to have South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.  Treasurer Loftis took over South Carolina’s “Palmetto Payback” unclaimed property program earlier this year and is also responsible for the state government’s finances, as well as South Carolina’s state 529 plans.  The Palmetto Payback website provides a wealth of information about the program, including FAQs for both owners and holders.  South Carolina has also embraced social media, providing information on Facebook, on Twitter (@TreasurerLoftis) and by participating in interviews with world-class unclaimed property blogs 🙂  We are grateful for the Treasurer’s time and efforts to provide this information. 
1.   By way of introduction, can you give us an overview of your background prior to becoming State Treasurer?  Did you have any experience or involvement with unclaimed property and/or escheat laws prior to that time? 
Treasurer Loftis:  I spent 20 years in private business, owning and operating a pest control business. After retiring from operating the company (I still own a majority share) I dedicated myself to charity work, establishing the Saluda Charitable Foundation. I then went onto start my career in public service in 2007, serving as the  Director of The Office on Aging. I was able to reduce the organizational budget by 23%–allowing these funds to be re-directed to services for seniors. My private business experience is a blessing when it comes to knowing the rules and regulations that businesses must follow when dealing with customers’ accounts. But I rely on the guidance and expertise of our Unclaimed Property staff to deal with the numerous issues surrounding Unclaimed Property. 

 2.  Can you give us background statistics on how much money South Carolina is holding? How about the number of claims per year?

Treasurer Loftis:  The Palmetto Payback program is holding 1.5 million accounts totaling nearly $300 million dollars. For fiscal year 2011, the program paid 30,932 claims, returning more than $12.6 million dollars to the rightful owners. For perspective, in fiscal year 2010, the program paid 13,629 claims.

3.  What error do you see holders making the most? What would you like them to improve?

Treasurer Loftis:  It is my goal to reunite as many owners as possible with their unclaimed funds. To do so effectively, we need as much information about the owner the holder has available. Not providing information like the last known address, social security number, date of birth, etc. not only makes it harder for us to locate the owner, but it makes it more difficult for us to verify ownership when claims are presented. 
4.  Does your office perform or participate in unclaimed property audits? If so, how do you select the companies that get audited?
Treasurer Loftis:  My office offers an informal voluntarily compliance program allowing us to work collaboratively with first time filers to assist them in coming into compliance. At the present time we do not have an internal audit staff. We issued an RFP for audit services several months ago and have awarded contracts to those auditors that met our requirements. We hope to start working them soon. 
5.  South Carolina, like other states, often auctions safe deposit box items that are remitted to the Treasury.  What is the strangest (or best) thing that your office has received as unclaimed property?

Treasurer Loftis: I can’t speak for past State Treasurers, but some of the most unique items we were able to return happened shortly after I took office in January 2011. Our staff was able to work with a genealogist and help locate a relative of Union Civil War Soldier Ira Cory.  The documents included a muster roll and papers outlining several battles. Capt. Cory took part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Our office was able to return these priceless documents to Capt. Cory’s great-grandson who lives in Ohio.

Link: www.treasurer.sc.gov/News/civilwarrelease.pdf
Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLUc4zxs6zA

6.  In the past several years, we’ve seen more interest among both holders and states with regard to IRAs, rebates, and gift cards. What areas do you think your office will focus upon most over the next few years?
Treasurer Loftis:  My office’s focus is in returning as much money as possible to the rightful owners, educating businesses as to their reporting obligations, and to assist holders to come into compliance.
 7.  Other than paying claims, is there any specific budgetary item for which unclaimed funds are used? (by way of explanation, in some states, unclaimed funds are used as general revenue, in others the funds are specifically earmarked for schools, highways, etc.).
 Treasurer Loftis:In South Carolina, until the rightful owner is located, the unclaimed funds are used by the legislature for purposes that benefit all South Carolinians. However, as with most states, the owner never loses his/her right to claim the funds. The funds will always be available to the rightful owner to claim.
 8.  What has been your biggest unclaimed property accomplishment as Treasurer?
Treasurer Loftis:  Our biggest accomplishment has been publicizing the Program in as many free media outlets as possible. We started with two TV news phone banks and have several other TV stations across the State also interested in sponsoring phone banks during their evening news broadcasts. We also use social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to publicize the Program early on. We have held back on seeking more free media publicity because the response was so overwhelming early on. But once the backlog gets manageable, we anticipate more uses of free media and more public appearances to remind people of the Program.
9.  What is the unclaimed property area where your office has the most work to do?
Treasurer Loftis:  Publicizing the program comes at a cost in personnel time. Large public response results in numerous claims to process. To meet the increased demands on the Program’s resources, we have added additional part time claims processing staff. We are also exploring ways to use technology to assist with the claims payment process. Within the next 6 months we anticipate launching an on-line claims program. Claims for which the claimant is the original owner–and we either have a social security number on the account or the owner is still living at the address as provided by the holder–will be processed electronically. Once the program is functional, many of our claimants will no longer have to send the claim forms by mail, which will reduce the number of claims the staff must process manually thus greatly expediting the payments to the rightful owners.
10.  If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the owner community, what would it be?
Treasurer Loftis:  Make a sincere effort to find the missing owners BEFORE the funds are reportable to the State as unclaimed. It is so much easier to locate owners shortly after you realize they are “missing” than to wait 1 to 5 years to perform the required due diligence. For those accounts for which you were unable to locate the owner, providing the State with as much information as you have regarding the account and the owner will increase the likelihood the funds will be returned to the rightful owner.

Programming Note: Meet Your Eschator Coming Wednesday

We are pleased to announce that we will be posting our second installment of “Meet Your Escheator” — Escheatable‘s interviews with state unclaimed property administrators — this coming Wednesday.  In case you missed it, our first interview was with Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel.  Be sure to check on Wednesday, for our newest Q&A with South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.

Meet Your Escheator: 10 Questions with Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel

We at Escheatable are happy to announce a new feature on this blog called “Meet Your Escheator,” where we will interview state officials responsible for unclaimed property administration. We are happy to have as our first guest Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel.  We’ve featured several of Missouri’s owner outreach programs on this blog (such as Operation Extra Mile, the state’s e-mail notification program, and its new unclaimed property kiosks) and are grateful to Treasurer Zweifel and his staff for their participation.
1.  Escheatable:  Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.  By way of introduction, can you give us an overview of your background prior to becoming State Treasurer? Had you any experience or involvement with unclaimed property and/or escheat laws prior to that time?

Treasurer Zweifel:  Prior to being elected State Treasurer, I served in the Missouri House of Representatives for six years. As the policymaking body for the state, I was involved in all parts of state government.

2.  Escheatable:  Can you give us background statistics on how much money Missouri is holding? How about the number of claims per year?

Treasurer Zweifel:  I currently hold over $600 million in Unclaimed Property for over 3.5 million owners. My team is having a record breaking fiscal year – paying out more than 100,000 claims in fiscal year 2011, surpassing the prior record set in FY2010 of over 92,000.

3.  Escheatable:  We have mentioned Missouri’s owner reunification efforts many times on this blog, because it seems that your office is taking many novel approaches to paying out unclaimed funds. What has made you focus on these additional efforts?

Treasurer Zweifel:  My priority is returning as much property as I can as quickly as possible. As part of that priority I continually look for efficiencies in the claim process and diligently try to identify owner subsets that are not being reached with our existing outreach efforts. The addition of paperless processing, email alerts and more effective advertising has let us reduce wait times from 43 days when I took office to about 20 days now.

4.  Escheatable:  What error do you see holders making the most? What would you like them to improve?

Treasurer Zweifel:  I believe that both of these questions revolve around the same answer, which is to provide complete owner information. I would like to emphasize the importance of holders providing me with all of the owner information they have available. The more owner information my team has the more likely we are to reunite the owner with their property.

5.  Escheatable:  Does your office perform or participate in unclaimed property audits? If so, how do you select the companies that get audited?

Treasurer Zweifel:  My team participates in audits with third party contractors. When holders are identified for an audit by another state or a contractor I determine if participation in that audit will result in identifying additional property for Missouri account owners.

6.  Escheatable:  In the past several years, we’ve seen more interest among both holders and states with regard to IRAs, rebates, and gift cards. What areas do you think your office will focus upon most over the next few years?

Treasurer Zweifel:  My sole focus is returning as much property as possible as quickly as possible. Whether that is a rebate, gift card or investment account, I want to get back to owners. This is not the state’s money, and putting back in the owners hands is better for the economic health of Missouri.

7.  Escheatable:  What has been your biggest unclaimed property accomplishment as Treasurer?

Treasurer Zweifel:  My proudest accomplishment is that Unclaimed Property is being handled more efficiently than ever before. I have done that by focusing on innovations that have results for taxpayers. The 100-percent paperless claims process has drastically reduced waits times. Providing the ability for citizens to sign up for email notifications that email them when they have Unclaimed Property was a big step forward in customer services. I was honored to be able to visit with military veterans in Cape Girardeau, Mo., when I announced the implementation of the Unclaimed Military Medal Protection program. In 2010, I developed legislation that is now law that makes it illegal for any future State Treasurer to auction off Unclaimed Military Medals. These medals and other military insignia deserve special protection. Since that legislation became law, I have returned 21 pieces to owners and heirs. Most recently, I placed an Unclaimed Property Search Kiosk in Columbia, Mo., at the driver’s license renewal office. This kiosk lets those without access to Internet and those who may not know about Unclaimed Property find and claim their property on site. Launching soon will be our online holder report system that will allow holders to report property to me electronically. I look forward to this reducing paperwork for the many holders who work hard to report property to me.

8.  Escheatable:  What is the unclaimed property area where your office has the most work to do?

Treasurer Zweifel:  We are constantly focused on improving our processes, cutting red tape and removing bureaucratic barriers. Missourians expect this from me, so I will continue to invest in technology and be focused on improved customer service. I want to return all $600 million. Until that is done, we will always have work to do.

9.  Escheatable:   If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the owner community, what would it be?

Treasurer Zweifel:  Please check for your name on my website http://www.showmemoney.com/ and register for our online owner notification. Even if you do not have property now, you may in the future. I talk to countless Missourians who did not have Unclaimed Property six months ago, but do now.

10.  Escheatable:  If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the holder community, what would it be?

Treasurer Zweifel:  I would ask the holder community to provide owner information electronically and provide as much owner information as possible. This makes the process smoother and helps me return property as fast as possible.